GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins #3, 6:10 pm

If today’s lineups look familiar, there’s a good reason… the Twins are sticking with the lineup that was a winner last night and the Jays are only swapping out their catcher in the #9 spot of the batting order.

Both teams have some young pitchers on the mound. Rookie Drew Hutchison is making the fifth start of the year… and of his career… for the Jays. In his last outing, Hutchison was the pitcher that gave up Albert Pujols’ first HR of the season. Of course, recent call-up PJ Walters is making his first start for the Twins. Walters made one brief relief appearance last year for Toronto after being acquired from the Cardinals organization but was sent to AAA immediately after that appearance.

For those of you who were wondering whether sending Brian Duensing out to pitch three innings on Wednesday was part of some sort of plan to stretch him out in case he needs to join the rotation, the Strib’s Joe Christensen tweeted that such was, in fact, the case.

On the injury front, things sound encouraging for Justin Morneau’s return at some point during the upcoming road trip. His wrist feels fine after some cage work and he hopes to face live BP this weekend some time. He’s eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday.

Let’s see if our guys can win two in a row for the second time this season! – JC

BLUE JAYS

@

TWINS
Johnson, K, 2B Span, CF
Escobar, Y, SS Dozier, SS
Bautista, RF Mauer, C
Encarnacion, DH Willingham, LF
Thames, E, LF Doumit, DH
Lawrie, 3B Plouffe, 3B
Rasmus, CF Parmelee, 1B
Lind, 1B Mastroianni, RF
Mathis, C Carroll, 2B
  _Hutchison, P   _Walters, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Toronto 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 7 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0

If I was PJ Walters, I might be wondering what the heck happened to the Major League hitting he was supposed to have supporting him when he got called up to the Big Leagues. Walters threw six very good innings, striking out five and walking none. He gave up just six hits, but one of those was a “just barely” home run to Jose Bautista and that provided the margin of victory for the Jays.

Once again, the bullpen did its job, with Brian Duensing throwing two shutout innings and Jeff Gray adding another. The Twins had opportunities but were a combined 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position. You won’t win often with stats like that… but then that’s a lessen you’d think this team would have learned by now.

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins #2, 7:10pm

Oh, baseball season, constantly in battle with yard season…

The bad thing is actually I’m off to help a friend with a new fence instead of working on my own new yard..

The good thing? yeah, I’m going to have to miss at least part of the game to get the work done.. the way the Twins are playing these days though maybe that is a good thing. Of course, it also looks like there might be a bit of a rain delay. It’s a bit windy and cool but I think they will get the game in tonight.

My fondest wish is that I’ll come back to the radio to find out the Twins have chosen to spite me and made it a fabulous game since I couldn’t watch. I’d still be cool with that.

Toronto

@

Minnesota
Johnson, K, 2B Span, CF
Escobar, Y, SS Dozier, SS
Bautista, RF Mauer, C
Encarnacion, DH Willingham, LF
Thames, E, LF Doumit, DH
Lawrie, 3B Plouffe, 3B
Rasmus, CF Parmelee, 1B
Lind, 1B Mastroianni, RF
Arencibia, C Carroll, 2B
  Drabek, P   Blackburn, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Toronto 1 0 0 1 0 3 0 1 0 6 11 0
Minnesota 2 0 0 0 4 0 1 0 x 7 7 1

Our guys don’t do anything the easy way these days, but we’ll take a win at this point any way we can get it.

Nick Blackburn went 5+ innings for the Win. The 5 went alright, but the + part was a problem as Nick coughed up 2 home runs and a total of 3 runs in the sixth inning without recording an out. Fortunately, his teammates had provided a 4 run lead at that point, so he had a run of cushion.

Alex Burnett stopped the bleeding in the sixth and after Darin Mastroianni provided a key RBI single to provide a much needed insurance run, Jared Burton threw another of his patented 1-2-3 innings of relief work. Glen Perkins coughed up a solo home run to Encarnacion in the eighth, but Matt Capps slammed the door in the ninth with the tying run on 3B to secure the save and, more importantly, the win for the Twins.

Burton certainly earns baked goods for his performance, while Denard Span went 2 for 4 with a double and a couple of runs scored and Ryan Doumit came through with a pair of critical ribbies, also earning some pastries for their efforts.

But the Boyfriend of the Day can be none other than Darin Mastroianni, who not only collected his first MLB hits, but plated three VERY important RBI in the process! – JC

Darin Mastroianni (Photo: CapitalBabs)

A Hesitant Denard Span

I mentioned  recently on the Phil Naessens Show that I thought I was slightly more statistically inclined then the rest of the Knuckleballs gang and that I’d be trying out some additional stats-based analysis in the near future.  Here is my first attempt at looking beyond the numbers.

Denard Span will probably never again be the player he was in 2008 and 2009.   When he broke onto the scene as an everyday player with the Minnesota Twins he was hitting the snot out of the ball (with 14 home runs during those first two seasons, and only 5 since then, in just slightly more plate appearances), reaching base almost 40% of the time, and playing spectacular defense.  As a reward for his first two successful years, Span signed a 5-year $16.5 million dollar deal in 2010.  2012 marks the first year that Span will make multiple million dollars (3 million, to be precise) and there are still more than $11 million dollars left on his deal for 2013 and 2014, plus an option year at $9 million.  Span could earn almost $20 million more dollars before his next contract has to be negotiated.

Keiunta Denard Span

Right now, Span is hitting .298 and reaching base at a .351 clip.  Both of those numbers represent improvements over 2010 and 2011, and yet, his .715 OPS is almost exactly league average.  The other night in a GameChat, Thrylos98 wondered if “Keiunta” had been struggling lately.  I started digging around Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com looking for recent splits and performance tables and was able to confirm the suspicion, Denard Span has not been doing much of anything over the past two weeks.  He’s hitting only .205 with 8 hits (all singles) in his last 44 plate appearances.  Despite all of that, he’s hitting .298!  Span could simply jump out of his slump and become the high average, high on-base guy he was when he first joined the club, but looking at some of the underlying statistics, it is far more likely that he’ll hit .260/.310/.350.  He’ll be valuable more for what he does with his glove than his bat and with a line like that, he’s certainly not worth the $20 million dollars that could be headed his way.

In Span’s first two seasons with the Twins he walked in 12.2% and 10.4% of his plate appearances.  That number dropped to about 8.5% over the past two seasons, and in his first 29 games of 2012, his walk percentage sits at a career low 7.6% (MLB average is usually between 8% and 9% so Span has went from well above average to below).  While Span has historically shown above average plate discipline, striking out in just 12.5% of his plate appearances over his career, he’s striking out at the worst rate of his career in 2012, 15.3%.  Obviously a small sample size disclaimer exists here, as Span has only 131 plate appearances this year, but Span hasn’t done anything recently (4 walks and 7 strikeouts in the last two weeks) to make anyone think he’s likely to turn things around quickly.

A decrease in walks and an increase in strikeouts present problems by themselves, but are really symptoms of a larger issue.  In Span’s case, he’s hesitant at the plate.  He’s looking at more pitches than he ever has (61%), and he’s swinging at the first pitch less than ever (14% in 2012 compared to a career rate of 21%).  That’s a shame because Span hits .367 on the first pitch of an at bat over the course of his career!  Part of that could be the way that teams are pitching to him on the first pitch, but he’s hit .357 or better during three of his first four years in the league, and never worse than .329 until 2012, so it is unlikely that teams suddenly realized Denard Span was an excellent first pitch hitter.

And yet, here is Denard Span, hitting just a tick under .300 and he’s on base more than a third of the times he comes up to bat!  One of the biggest reasons why Span is still performing at or near league average is because of an abnormally high BABIP of .356.  A high BABIP means Span is getting luckier than an average player, turning hit baseballs into hits more frequently than 80% of the league.  The league average for BABIP in 2012 is just .290, and Span has been within three percentage points of league average the last two seasons, so he’ll likely regress to a number closer to .300.

My advice to Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the Twins’ front office: Trade Denard Span before his performance really slumps and the $11+ million dollars left on his contract make him a liability on the open market.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins, 7:10 pm

so.. here’s your new look Twins… anyone wonder if the result will be any different? At least the weather is absolutely perfect…

Toronto

@

Minnesota
Johnson, K, 2B Span, CF
Escobar, Y, SS Dozier, SS
Bautista, RF Mauer, 1B
Encarnacion, DH Willingham, DH
Thames, E, LF Doumit, C
Lawrie, 3B Plouffe, 3B
Rasmus, CF Komatsu, RF
Lind, 1B Mastroianni, LF
Arencibia, C Casilla, A, 2B
  Alvarez, H, P   Marquis, P

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Toronto

2

0

3

1

0

0

0

0

0

6

10

2

Minnesota

0

0

1

0

0

1

0

0

0

2

7

0

well that just sucked… SOOOO many bad things about this game.. I really debated finding a copy of the Keystone Cops theme (interestingly enough called Bag of Rags) and having it play for anyone who pulled up this post but I thought that might be adding insult to injury for us fans. There was a ridiculous amount of miscues, bad plays, horrible officiating and in general, bad baseball. And the score didn’t end up favoring us either…

The only good thing I can think of from tonight’s game is that finally, the Twins came out on top of the HR count in a game against Toronto… thank you Willy… but that’s a pretty weak positive for us “optimists”.

Late Night Roster Changes

This is what happens when you’re sick and you sleep during the game and then wake up to take more drugs so you can go back to sleep. You decide to check Twitter and… wow…

Danny Valencia

Danny Valencia has been struggling badly at the plate, with his batting average falling below the Mendoza line, and now he’s been optioned to Rochester.

Matt Maloney, along with his 9.00 ERA has been designated for assignment.

[Edit] Also in the ‘making a change’ category is Francisco Liriano who has been moved to the bullpen. As far as changes go, it was either this or the minors so I hope this works for him.

On their way up to the Twins from Rochester are outfielder Darin Mastroianni and pitcher P. J. Walters.

Mastoianni started the season in New Britain before moving up to Rochester after 9 games. In 20 games with the Red Wings, Mastroianni accumulated a .346/.393/.423 slash line with 2 doubles, 2 triples and 10 stolen bases.

Walters has a 3-1 record after six starts for Rochester, with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. He has struck out 25 hitters and walked only 6. Walters’ arrival means Francisco Liriano will be moving to the Twins bullpen, as the team announced Walters will be starting Saturday’s game with the Blue Jays.

With an infielder going to Rochester and being replaced on the roster by an outfielder, it does make one wonder what roles other existing roster members are going to be playing. Dan Gladden mentioned during the Wednesday night game broadcast that Alexi Casilla was taking ground balls at 3B, so we might assume he’ll be manning the hot corner, though Ron Gardenhire told reporters that Casilla, Plouffe and Carroll would all split time at 3B.

I hope Valencia finds his stroke in Rochester and can make his way back up before the season is over and I certainly hope Liriano finds whatever it is that he’s been missing.

- JC

GameChat – Angels @ Twins #3, 7:10pm

I really hope that we can repeat last nights result (ie the WIN) but more importantly, I would really love to see a repeat of that kind of starting pitching!!! It was really exciting to see a team NOT hit the hell out of the ball when we’re out there…

Is it asking too much to see it again??

And Congratulations to TC Bear! This is his 1000th game! that’s a lot of games to have never missed one since he started.

 

LA Angels

@

Minnesota
Trout, CF Span, CF
Callaspo, 3B Dozier, SS
Pujols, 1B Mauer, 1B
Morales, K, DH Willingham, LF
Hunter, To, RF Doumit, DH
Kendrick, H, 2B Valencia, 3B
Wells, V, LF Komatsu, RF
Aybar, SS Butera, C
Wilson, Bo, C Carroll, 2B
  Santana, E, P   Pavano, P

 

 

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
LA Angels 0 0 3 0 2 1 0 0 0 6 14 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 6 1

Another ugly game. Carl Pavano was clearly not himself but Josh Willingham hit his sixth home run and Brian Duensing threw three hitless innings of relief. – JC

Knuckleballs Podcast with Phil Naessens

It’s kind of funny but all the Knuckleballs staff here finally did a group outing with the whole crew – of course, since we’re in three different states, it would have to be online and funnier yet, we did it with a guy in Greece!

Phil Naessens is an American abroad running his own US Sports Blog/Podcast called the Phil Naessens Show. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people outside the state of Minnesota who participate with Knuckleballs but outside the country really blows my mind. He’s a regular commenter here in the off-season so you may have seen his name before but if you haven’t had a chance to check out his blog, you should definitely do so.

Last night – during the first part of the game – we all had a chance to Skype with him to record a podcast. I have to admit, it’s my first time EVER doing something like that and I don’t think I was alone. KL also felt a little on the spot but I think he was pretty kind in his interview questions over all so we didn’t sound like QUITE the idiots we were worried about… it was also his first time doing a whole group – so we were all experimenting on what could have been a complete free-for-all.

I hope you will give it a listen! May 8th Podcast. You can either listen to his whole broadcast piece or skip ahead to about the 42 minute mark and listen to us… Hope you enjoy it and feel free to give us some ideas about what you might want to hear from us next time!

GameChat – Angels @ Twins #2, 7:10 pm

No Denard Span tonight, but apparently that was the plan all along so we’re not supposed to read anything in to it. We’ll see.

The Knuckleballs crew is taping a podcast tonight during the first 45 minutes or so of the game, so if you don’t see us around, don’t freak out… wait until you hear the podcast, THEN you can freak out. Thanks to Phil Naessens for having us on. We’ll try not to screw it up too bad.

Go Twins!

ANGELS

@

TWINS
Trout, CF Komatsu, CF
Callaspo, 3B Dozier, SS
Pujols, 1B Mauer, 1B
Hunter, To, RF Willingham, LF
Trumbo, DH Doumit, DH
Kendrick, H, 2B Valencia, 3B
Wells, V, LF Plouffe, RF
Aybar, SS Butera, C
Iannetta, C Carroll, 2B
  _Haren, P   _Diamond, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
LA Angels 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0
Minnesota 3 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 x 5 12 0

Seven innings of shutout baseball thrown by a Twins starter… now that’s something we haven’t seen this season. Add to that 12 hits and five runs and you’ve got pretty much a complete effort. Josh Willingham had an early RBI double and Ryan Doumit hit his fourth HR of the season. Joe Mauer added a couple of hits of his own. Jared Burton and Matt Capps each added scoreless innings of relief.

But in his first MLB start of the season, Scott Diamond limited the Angels to just four hits over his seven innings and that’s good enough for tonight’s Boyfriend of the Day award!

Scott Diamond

GameChat – Angels @ Twins #1, 7:10pm

The Twins get a re-do against Jered Weaver.  Tonight they hope, not just for a single hit, but for runs, and even a win.

Brian Dozier is making his MLB debut and hitting second.  Dozier impressed in Spring Training and almost came north with the team.  He started off 2012 white-hot in AAA but has since come back to earth.  Let’s see how he fares against one of MLB’s best.

Willingham has the day off with the flu but could be available to pinch hit late if he’s feeling any better,  and Alexi Casilla is getting a day off to rest a sore shoulder he tweaked making a diving play over the weekend.

Here is how the rest of the lineup shakes out:

Los Angeles Angels

@

 Minnesota Twins
 Izturis, M, SS  Span, CF
 Callaspo, 3B  Dozier, SS
 Pujols, 1B  Mauer, C
 Hunter, To, RF  Doumit, DH
 Trumbo, DH  Valencia, 3B
 Kendrick, H, 2B  Parmelee, 1B
 Wells, V, LF  Plouffe, RF
 Iannetta, C Komatsu, LF
 Bourjos, CF  Carroll, 2B
  _Weaver, P   _Liriano, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
LA Angels 1 0 2 1 0 0 1 0 3 8 10 1
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 3 6 2

At least the Twins got a hit tonight… six of them actually… and three runs, even. So that’s something, I guess. – JC